Chris Pizzello, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Finally, an awards show with some surprises and spontaneity.
The Screen Actors Guild Awards featured some unexpected winners, including "The Help" for best overall cast performance and Jean Dujardin for best actor in "The Artist" alongside some of the longtime favorites in movies and television.
But there was a looseness and a playfulness that permeated the Shrine Exposition Center Sunday night — maybe because it was a room full of people who love to perform, without the rigidity of one single host to lead them.
Unlike the great expectations that came with the sharp-tongued Ricky Gervais' reprisal at the Golden Globes a couple weeks ago or the much-anticipated return of Billy Crystal to the Academy Awards next month, there was no master of ceremonies at the SAG Awards. The presenters and winners seemed to have more room to improvise and put their own spin on the evening — but mercifully, the show itself still managed to wrap up on time after just two hours.
And so we had three of the stars of best-cast nominee "Bridesmaids" — Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy — introducing their comedy with a joke about turning the name "Scorsese" into a drinking game, which became a running gag throughout the night. When HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" won the award for best drama series cast, among the first words star Steve Buscemi uttered in accepting the prize were "Martin Scorsese" — he just happens to be one of the show's executive producers.
One of the more exciting moments of the night was the announcement of Dujardin's name in the best-actor category for his performance in the silent, black-and-white homage "The Artist." In winning the award for his portrayal of a silent-film star who finds his career in decline with the arrival of talkies, Dujardin definitely boosts his chances at the Oscars on Feb. 26. Little-known in the United States before this, the French comic bested bigger names like George Clooney ("The Descendants"), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar").
If he follows this up with an Academy Award, Dujardin would become the first French actor ever to take the prize. Asked backstage how it would feel, Dujardin launched into a jaunty rendition of "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem.
"Pressure, big pressure," Dujardin then added in his halting English. "It's unbelievable. It's amazing already. Too early to tell."
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer continued to cement their front-runner status in the actress and supporting actress categories, respectively, for their formidable work in "The Help." Both women play black maids in 1960s Mississippi who dare to go public about the bigotry they've endured.
"I just have to say that the stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color or women. It's all of our burden, all of us," Davis said, accepting the ensemble prize on behalf of her "The Help" co-stars.
Backstage, Davis said of her own victory: "A few more people checked my name in the box for whatever reason. This time I kind of fooled them."
Meanwhile, Christopher Plummer picked up yet another supporting-actor prize for his lovely turn as an elderly widower who finally comes out as gay in "Beginners." Plummer won at the Golden Globes and is nominated for an Oscar. He would become the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award at age 82, two years older than Jessica Tandy was when she won best actress for "Driving Miss Daisy."
Backstage, Plummer joked when asked if he would like to win an Oscar, an honor so elusive during his esteemed 60-year career that he did not even receive his first Academy Award nomination until two years ago, for "The Last Station."
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